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Powering the HD 650, a Good, Flexible System?

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 

Hello All,


Finally I have some HD 650's on their way to me. I'm very excited! :) To most of you guys they're just average, everyday headphones (or worse,) but they will be my go-to reference, casual listening, even mixing headphones!


I've read a lot about the "scalability" and flexibility of the 650s.


I have a feeling that I'm looking for two completely different powering units here (and that's ok,) but if possible I'd like to invest in just one amp. Is there an amp out there that can give me pro audio-grade, clean, flat voltage for when I want to mix or critically listen, but has the capability to give a warm,distorted tube sound when I just want to casually listen to my favorite music?


For right now I'll be using a Focusrite Scarlett 2i4, a Solo/Continental V2 combo, old school Denon Receiver, maybe a Microstreamer.


I'm definitely going to give the Scarlett interface a shot. While it doesn't seem to get great reviews around here, I've been pretty impressed with it so far in cleanly powering my HD 380s and Bowers & Wilkins P7s (obviously easier to drive headphones.) The Scarlett may be pretty close to what I need for actual work, I'm not sure...


For something very smooth, warm, tubey, whatever you want to call it, will the original Solo and Continental V2 keep me satisfied on that front? Honestly in my experience thus far with the Continental it hasn't struck me as the sweetest hybrid/tube sounding amp, though it arguably hasn't been well paired either.. Will the HD 650 change this? What am I giving up in sound quality by using the continental instead of something like the Bottlehead Crack? Obviously, the ability to roll tubes would be nice, but if the Continental offers somewhat comparable power it would be much less of a headache to keep it instead of feeding my audio-spending problem with the new world of tube rolling... :-/


I know comparing desktop and portable amps is somewhat silly, just trying to get a relative idea of where my equipment is at and how to best invest my money at this point...


Thanks for the input guys!

post #2 of 9

It's not cheap, but a Cary 300sei might fit your needs. It's very warm and tubey, but  wouldn't call it distorted, and it will drive full size speakers as a bonus. It works great with the Senn 600/650's.

post #3 of 9
Thread Starter 
Hmmm, the ability to drive full sized speakers is a plus. I've got some old school Avid 102s that could use a nice warm source. I've been wanting to expiriment but hadn't gotten there yet.

Could you compare the Cary 300sei to the bottlehead crack, or any of the other popular ones from schiit or Woo Audio?

On that subject, I'm pretty new to tube setups. However, despite what I've always "known" to be true (a decent solid state setup is ideal for audio work,) it just occurred to me that a good tube setup might be just what I'm looking for... So my question would then become: Are there any tube amps that are particularly known to offer a nice laid-back tube sound AND a very transparent, true (flat) sound just simply from using different tubes? This may be a stupid question, but like I said I'm learning every day! If the Cary can do this I might have found the one. (I know tube-rolling is popular around here, just am not sure what is realistically capable in swapping tubes. I've also been under the impression that generally tube amps don't represent the sub bass frequencies very truly, though from my limited experience with them I'm not sure my ears completely agree at this point.)

Also, can anyone compare the (portable) continental V2 to these desktop systems? I know it's a compromise in a few ways, but would hate to spend a lot more money on a Cary (for example) and not tell much of a difference.

The law of diminishing returns is a party pooper, and unfortunately money still isn't growing on trees around here just yet...

Thanks for the input! Researching the Cary 320sei...
Edited by reborn - 2/18/14 at 7:38pm
post #4 of 9

First thing that caught my eye, HD650 aren't good headphones for mixing since they are (very) colored in the mid bass region, so looking for a "flat" amp for mixing with them doesn't make sense to me.

Side note, any well designed tube amps is "flat", if by flat you mean even frequency response from 20Hz to 20kHz (-3db), so this term isn't appropriate. The more appropriate term would be "colored" to describe any alteration of the sound caused by distortion.. 

Now for my recommendation, if you want a smooth sound, I think the HD650 by themselves plugged in any decent setup (SS or tube) will sound smooth, because they are designed that way. So before buying any amp, I would listen to them for a while on whatever you have on hand right now and see how it sounds. Give it a few weeks, then report back and we'll start from there. 

post #5 of 9
Thread Starter 
Sounds like a plan, UPS will be dropping them off tomorrow, and I'll be putting multiple hours on them daily (as well as burning them in when not in use.)

I understand what you're saying about a mid bass emphasis, but flat is a relative term in my opinion. From my limited experience with the HD650, my mix (only judging from one piece I should say) actually transferred to my girlfriends modern OEM Ford system surprisingly well. I think one of the reasons is because of the 650s FR. I think that mid bass I heard while mixing kept me honest. Since I tend to like the lower frequencies I previously may have been mixing in too much energy there which was causing some muddyness on average systems. That's just a theory. But in my (again, fairly limited,) experience, it's all about what you're comfortable with and using different systems to reference. I don't really intend for the music that I make to sound flat, I guess is what it comes down to maybe... But what's not really all that relative is the resolution variable. And that's another thing I really liked about the 650. Good detail! A lot I couldn't hear on my monitors from what I remember!

For the price, and the way that the 650s seemed to compliment my marginal monitors/room treatment in addition to my general preference for the smoother sound I figured they would do the job! I'm sure there are better options for mixing, but from what I remember I should be happy for quite a while! We'll see next month. smily_headphones1.gif

But good point here. I guess what I'm looking for is ultimately transparency and an amp that doesn't color or distort the fr more than it already is, while keeping the timing and such as neat as possible.

Thanks for the input!
post #6 of 9
Thread Starter 
Upon my research of the Cary 300sei, though beautifully conceived and implemented, and quite useful for my application, it didn't take me long to realize it's just financially too much of an investment for this guy.

I'm on a somewhat strict budget I guess it would be fair to say! Lol
post #7 of 9
Originally Posted by reborn View Post

I'm on a somewhat strict budget I guess it would be fair to say! Lol

...and you have a decent range of amps to play with so I'd listen to what you have and enjoy...cheers!

Eventually you might want to build a Crack for the experience and enjoyment.

post #8 of 9
Thread Starter 
Yes! I think I'd really like that experience and could probably learn a tremendous amount from it!

The HD 650s came in right before noon today, so have basically been running non stop for 11 hours. They've been on my head for 5 or so of those hours.

Ahhhh, I love these cans! Soundstage isn't as big as I remembered it to be, but I'll manage. The drivers may open up a little with burn in. They may have already opened up a little, actually. But my ears could be tricking me too.

I've spent some time comparing my amp options, and was surprised on a few occasions:

Scarlett 2i4 - drives the 650s in a very clean way. Noise floor is surprisingly low on this thing. That's the good news. The bad news is that the reason I can comment on it's noise floor with confidence is the fact that I can literally turn the gain on the Scarlett all the way up while listening to the 650s. I think this is the combination of a slight lack of power and low distortion levels. If I were to use this amp at a loud listening (mixing) volume it would be at about 3:00 (out of a 7:00-5:00 total range.) This may sound like there's some headroom... but honestly there's not much increase in power from about 2:30-5:00. This 3:00 position is an adequate level with a very clean signal, but unfortunately it lacks in impact and maybe resolution. Kinda surprised. I had a strong feeling this thing would get the job done, but I'm not so sure now.

CLAS+Continental V2 - Well... Some surprises here. First of all I must say I'm impressed. Simply put, this combination easily drives the 650s. The Continental offers more resolution (and volume) at 80% gain than the Scarlett does maxed out. The kicker is that this is with the Continental at low gain! :-/ The continental is ever so close to the level of warmth I was looking for in a fun amp... but it's just not quite there. Alternatively, this is a setup that for right now I'd be very happy to call a portable reference setup. The highs come alive, and the lows are definitely there too. Overall resolution seems great! I haven't run any sine sweeps or been able to hyper focus on any of my reference tracks yet, but at this point the setup looks to offer solid dynamics and sound.

Very curious as to what more a solid, but affordable desktop setup like the Crack has to offer here... Any input??

Microstreamer - Somewhat surprised here. In some ways this is a great pairing with the 650s. The highs again seem there, and there is a more full bass body than what the Scarlett offers. However, it doesn't help the 650s out a ton in the soundstage department, and though a balanced fr with the pairing seems "there," it also almost seems kinda gimmicky in a way. I bet running a sine sweep through this setup would show some areas of interest. It doesn't quite offer as much impact as the Continental. A loud listening level has me with 1 volume notch left on my ipad.

So honestly I have no idea where I'm at. Bummed out with the Scarlett. While I'm not in any super hurries, it does look like I'll be in the market for a desktop amp soon. From a portable standpoint I have enough to choose from to keep me satisfied. In fact, I want to do a more thorough evaluation of the Continental to see just how capable it can prove for me. I'd also like to put my copper interconnect between it and the solo to see if it warms it up any more.

Thanks for the input guys!! smily_headphones1.gif keep it coming!
post #9 of 9
Thread Starter 
Well, I've put quite a few hours on these babies. Great all around cans!

I've gotta say... This thread made me drag my Avid 102 loudspeakers out of closet, and I've fallen in love with them all over again. Got them hooked up to the living room setup, and had an extra krk 10" subwoofer that I paired them with. It's a great setup! But there's room for improvement with amplification still.

So... The idea of an amp that I can used to power these Avid 102s that also has a good headphone out is very appealing after all.

I'm still working on a budget though, unfortunately. Anyone have any suggestions for good amps that would fit my needs that won't break my broke ass?
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